Brazil has decided to suspend a $324 million vaccine contract with Bharat Biotech for 20 million doses of Covaxin. This comes after accusations were made against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of turning a blind eye to possible corruption in a deal to purchase coronavirus vaccines.
On Tuesday, June 29, Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said the deal would be suspended following the guidance of the federal comptroller, the CGU. The minister also added that his team would probe the allegations, reported Al Jazeera.
'Faced Pressure To Greenlight Import Of Covaxin'
Earlier, whistleblowers went public with alleged irregularities while striking the vaccine deal. In fact, a former employee at the Brazilian health ministry earlier informed the prosecutor's office that he told the Bolsanaro that he had been pressured to sign a contract that would increase the average price of doses by 1,000 percent.
The official said he had faced pressure to greenlight the import of the Covaxin vaccine and alleged that there were irregularities in the invoices — particularly a $45 million upfront payment to a Singapore-based company.
The President's Denial
On his part, Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing. On June 24, the President said "We didn't spend one cent on Covaxin. We didn't receive one dose of Covaxin. What sort of corruption is this?. Bharat Biotech said it followed a "step-by-step" approach for the regulatory approval and supply contract of its COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into the deal, citing comparatively high prices, quick talks, and pending regulatory approvals as red flags. Besides, one of the leading opposition senators on that panel has also initiated a criminal complaint against the President at the Supreme Court.
In February, Brazil signed a contract for 20 million Covaxin doses. The country agreed to pay about $320 million — at $15 per vaccine dose, the most expensive of all vaccines Brazil purchased — to Precisa Medicamentos, the representative of Bharat Biotech in Brazil, reported Money Control.
The allegations emerged when a Singapore-based firm, which is now suspected of being a shell company, billed the Brazilian health ministry $45 million for yet-to-be-delivered doses of Covaxin, which did not have regulatory approval in Brazil.
Luis Ricardo Miranda, the head of medical imports at the Brazilian health ministry, said that an invoice seeking a $45 million upfront payment to a Singapore-based company raised red flags. Miranda said that Brazil's $300 million contract for Covaxin made no mention of the firm that sent the invoice, Madison Biotech.
What Does This Mean For Bolsonaro?
Accusations that the President turned a blind eye to possible corruption have threatened his presidency. He has been severely criticised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll in Brazil due to COVID has crossed the five lakh mark.
A congressional inquiry into the country's disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic has found mounting evidence that Jair Bolsonaro's administration committed "crimes against life", according to a senior politician leading the investigation.
The President has openly scorned social distancing measures and called the disease a "little flu". Last year, he cautioned his citizens against taking vaccines and said that his government won't be responsible if the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine turns people into "crocodiles" or make women bearded as a side-effect.